HAVANA TIMES, July 23 (IPS) – Opponents of the de facto regime that took power in Honduras nearly a month ago began a two-day general strike Thursday, while the talks mediated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias teetered on the verge of collapse.
In the meantime, ousted president Manuel Zelaya said he would return to his country, from which he was sent into exile by the military on Jun. 28, on Friday or Saturday.
In an attempt to salvage the talks, Arias set forth a new compromise proposal Wednesday, which includes most of the seven points presented last Saturday while incorporating a few concessions demanded by the de facto regime headed by Roberto Micheletti.
The key aspect of the new 11-point proposal is still Zelaya’s reinstatement as president, which tripped up the previous proposal because it was flatly refused by Micheletti.
But in the new document, stricter conditions are attached to Zelaya’s return, such as the creation of a national unity cabinet that would include representatives of the two traditional parties, the right-wing National Party and the centre-right Liberal Party.
The proposal would also create a “truth commission” to investigate the events leading up to and during the coup d’etat, when Zelaya was pulled out of bed at gunpoint by over 100 troops and put on a plane to Costa Rica, still in his pajamas.
But because neither of the two sides had officially rejected the proposal set forth by Nobel Peace laureate Arias, Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said there was still hope of a settlement.
At a press conference at OAS headquarters in Washington Thursday, Insulza warned that “rejection would lead us down the road to confrontation.”
He also said it was not a good idea for Zelaya to return to Honduras until an agreement had been reached.
When the ousted leader attempted to return on July 5, the military placed obstacles on the runway at the Tegucigalpa airport, making it impossible for his plane to land. Two people were reportedly killed that day in clashes between Zelaya supporters trying to reach the airport, and the security forces.
Zelaya says he plans to return Friday or Saturday, over the land border from Nicaragua, unarmed and accompanied only by his family.
General Strike Thursday and Friday
The country’s three central trade unions declared a two-day general strike Thursday and held street protests and roadblocks demanding Zelaya’s return.
Daniel Duron, leader of the CGT, the most conservative of the three trade union confederations, told IPS that traffic blockades were erected in Tegucigalpa and at other spots around the country and that only emergency services were being provided at hospitals.
In addition, according to an earlier decision reached by the teachers’ union, primary and secondary school teachers are only working Mondays through Wednesdays until the democratic government is reinstated.
“There will be major mobilizations at a national level over the next few days to demand the restoration of the constitutional order,” said Duron.
Within a few days after the coup, the OAS and the United Nations had called for Zelaya’s restoration to power, and all of the ambassadors from the European Union, as well as many from Latin America, were recalled from Honduras. Both the EU and the United States have suspended part of their aid to the de facto government.
Arias’ new proposal also calls for respect for the recent approval of the 2009 state budget, which Zelaya – who had increased social spending – had blocked.
One of the numerous legal charges brought against the ousted president, for whom an arrest warrant was issued the day of the coup, is that he broke the law by blocking approval of the budget.
The compromise proposal would also establish a follow-up commission to monitor compliance with the agreements reached.
One of the points already in Arias’ original proposal is a commitment by Zelaya not to pursue constitutional reform.
It was precisely his attempt to hold a non-binding referendum asking voters if they wanted to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution that precipitated the coup, justified by the claim that Zelaya was attempting to introduce the possibility of presidential reelection, although he never said that was his aim.
A political amnesty for those involved in the coup and for Zelaya, the moving forward of the Nov. 29 general elections, and the transfer of the command of the armed forces from the executive branch to the Supreme Electoral Court a month before the elections, to “guarantee transparency” during the electoral process, were other points incorporated from the original proposal.
Arias: Time Is Running Out
“I am not giving up, because there have been two rounds of talks in which the tension has gradually been reduced, which in and of itself is an achievement for democracy, because each minute of dialogue is a minute that we have stolen from violence and madness,” Arias said.
“But time is running out, and we have to seek peace for a people who deserve a return to the constitutional order,” he added.
A distant prospect at this point, analysts concur.
“It will be only a half-victory for both sides, which is why we have to turn our gaze away from the reasons that led to the confrontation and turn it to the challenges that should lead to reconciliation,” Arias added.
Zelaya said in Nicaragua that the de facto authorities have “flatly refused to accept my reinstatement, are ignoring the OAS, are not submitting themselves to the United Nations and want a military coup to be legalized: that is unacceptable.”
The ousted leader’s representative Ricci Moncada pointed out that his delegation had accepted the first proposal, and she blamed the de facto regime for its “intransigence.”
Spokespersons for Micheletti, meanwhile, said that although the new proposal continued to insist on Zelaya’s return to the presidency, it also incorporated a number of suggestions made by their delegation.
Arturo Corrales, a member of the de facto government’s negotiating committee, told IPS that in his proposal, Arias “heard us, and for us the dialogue has begun, because he not only recognized that there is a separation of powers (in Honduras) but also that we have laws and a constitution to be respected, which is a major stride forward.”
The Costa Rican leader “has paved the way for us to be heard by the OAS, the U.N., the world,” he said.
“The talks didn’t come out perfectly, but there are a lot of interesting aspects, and for us the mediation has not failed; on the contrary, dialogue has begun to win out, and we should continue to listen to each other,” Corrales added.
Micheletti’s delegation told Arias that they would present the proposal to the Supreme Court and the attorney general’s office, which are opposed, however, to Zelaya’s return to office and to an amnesty that would put an end to the charges against him.
Although Zelaya’s supporters have taken to the streets since the coup, so have the backers of the de facto regime.
Business associations, students, workers and churches forming part of a civic movement that represents the most conservative forces in the country once again held a major demonstration Wednesday.
Analyst Juan Ramón Martínez said the polarization merely indicates that “the mediation must be more in-depth. For now what we can say is there has been some progress, indicating that Arias is starting to do his job.”